Podcast transcript for episode 8: Being and Doing
The cycle of doing
The cycle of being
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
In this episode of the Loved, Called, Gifted podcast, we’re thinking about the idea of self worth and where we get our worth from. Do we get it from the things we do, from our achievements, or do we get it from an inherent sense of having self-worth simply because of who we are. It will be absolutely no surprise to you that I think that it is through our own inherent value, that our self-worth needs to come from, not from the stuff that we do. But we grow up in a society where doing and acheivement is very much where self worth is coming from. So we end up stuck in something I would like to call the Cycle of Doing. And I’m going to be introducing you to two kind of different ways of tackling this and thinking about this. Places that we can come from. SO I’m going to talk to you about the Cycle of Being, and the Cycle of Doing. And this is something that we tackle on the Loved, Called, Gifted course, which is available at the website, if you want to have a look. That’s lovedcalledgifted.com. And where the transcript is, I’m going to put some diagrams of the Cycle of Being and the Cycle of Doing in case you want to have a bit of a look.
So, our society, from a very young age, from the moment that we’re socialised, really, gives us an understanding that worth is attached to achievement and behaviour. Doing things that are appropriate, doing things that are culturally acceptable. And in lots of ways, that kind of makes sense. In that we need people to be able to live in a way that fits with society. We all need to be able to behave in ways that are sort of socially appropriate. So it’s not a surprise that from a very young age, we get approbation and congratulation from the things that we achieve. You know, you learn to walk, and there is a round of applause from everyone. You learn to…defacate…in…the right container…and everyone is delighted. So from when we’re really young, we have this sense that there is worth that comes from the things that we do and the things that we achieve. Certainly, that continues into education. I would say that in an educational setting, certainly in Britain, things have come a long way. So there isn’t that sense of competitiveness that there was when I was growing up. So in the schools that I went to, people did not regularly hand out certificates. I remember at my middle school, there was a prize-giving at the end of each year, and there would be one lucky individual, who’s name would be written in gold leaf on this kind of wood panelling on one of the walls. It used to be a grammar school, it wasn’t when I was there. But it still had that kind of grammar school vibe, and there were the names of people who had won the Ashton Cup from years and years ago. So there would be one individual who’s name would be in gold leaf on the wall. And then there would be a few other people who got prizes at the end of the year. But in general, you had to be amongst the lucky few to have been awarded anything at all.
These days things have changed. We’re much better at acknowledging a wider range of achievements. So, when I was at school, certificates were rarely handed out; now, there is often very ready acknowledgement of individual achievement, particularly when we are young. So even though my kids have not found school particularly easy, they have still managed to come home, over the years, with enough certificates that I could, if I wanted to, wallpaper a medium-sized living room. There is the Star of the Week, the Star of the Month, there’s certificates for trying hard in Maths, being a Star in English, being kind to somebody; all kinds of things. So it’s a kinder game we are playing, certainly with our young people, than it used to be, in lots of ways. But fundamentally, the rules haven’t changed. You get approbation and award and a sense of self-worth from society recognising – or from yourself recognising, actually – that you’ve achieved something.
So, back to our cycle. We start from the perspective that we want to feel that we are worth something. We want to know that we have worth and value to society. And the consequence of that is that we strive to achieve things, we strive to gain things, we strive to do some of the things that society says would equal success. And then if we do succeed, we feel great. But actually, what we discover, is that those feelings of self-worth are fleeting. Then you come back to that sense of “am I good enough?” And if you imagine that as going around a cycle, you end up back at the beginning, where you think, “I want to feel that I’m worth something, I need to achieve.” For some people, actually, life is really quite hard. And there is a real sense – particularly, actually, if you’re suffering from something like depression – there can be a real sense, when you get to that kind of “I don’t feel that I’m worth anything” you can almost feel that – well, you can definitely feel, not just almost, you can feel that “there is no point in trying to achieve anything, because there’s no prospect of it getting anywhere.” So you can become inactive, because you just think that there’s no point trying, or “I haven’t got the energy”, or there just isn’t anything to fight for. “I’m not going to get anywhere”, “I’m not the kind of person who’s going to achieve anything, so there isn’t any point in getting out of bed in the first place, or giving this a go.” But actually, that ‘doing nothing’ can lead you to feel worthless and useless. So then you’re back to that thing about wanting to feel that you’re worth something and wanting to achieve. And either you start round the loop of “I’m going to try and do something to promote a sense of self-worth”, or back down that downward spiral of “I don’t feel like I’m worth anything, I’m worried that I’m not, there isn’t any point in trying, I’m not going to get anywhere.” So you end up round a kind of a sub-loop.
And of course the other thing is that even if we try to strive and achieve, to do something and to get somewhere, there is a bit of an ‘oops’ that can happen, in that you try, and then for some reason it doesn’t work out, and then that lands you back at that place of feeling that you want to feel like you’re worth something, but perhaps you have this fear that you’re not. And I think we can really see that cycle happening in society. The cliche, almost, is of the really successful person who works hard and achieves, and then finds that despite having worked hard and successfully got round the cycle, and still it doesn’t really satisfy that thing inside which says, “I feel like I want to know that I am worth something.” And there are famous examples, aren’t there, of people who really tragically have got to the top of their field and have then decided, “actually, this hasn’t done what I thought it would do, for me.” Still there is a sense of despair, still there is a sense of that kind of nihilistic, nothing-is-worth-striving-for, because it doesn’t meet that inner need to have a sense of self-worth. So there are people like Marilyn Monroe who got to the top, Kurt Cobain, and then they end up ending their own lives because there is such despair at having worked really hard and having got to the top, and still felt empty, and lacking in worth.
Obviously that’s kind of a really unusual end of the spectrum. For most of us it’s a bit more subtle than “We’re going to become billionaires and then be dissatisfied with it.” But there are still certain markers in society which, inherently in themselves, have attached to them a sense of self worth, and we have that feeling that if we strive for these things, and if we achieve them, then that will give us the sense of self-worth that we’re looking for. That sometimes it’s about career, there is a sense that “if I keep working at this, then I will get to the top”, or “I will get the next job”, or “I will get the next promotion”, but actually I think we are much more aware these days that that isn’t necessarily going to be the thing that might give us the satisfaction that we might have been told that it would. And maybe we’ve always been a bit more intelligent than that, maybe we’ve always really known that that kind of success actually doesn’t guarantee any sort of self-worth.
So there are certain sort of markers in society of achievement that we all have a tendency to want to strive towards. So one of those would be getting a job, learning to drive, buying a house, although that’s becoming more aspirational than it was maybe 30 years ago. Having a partner, having kids, achieving the right body shape, being fit. There are a number of different things that we would all sort of strive towards. Because we have the sense that that will give us a sense of worth. Ironically, of course, quite a few of those are not actually in our control. So sometimes you can work really hard to get a job, you can fill in hundreds of application forms, and be perfectly competent, and still not be the person that gets to the top of the list. Successfully pro-creating is more about biology and luck than it is about skill. So is having a partner, actually. Y’know, some of us are lucky enough to fall in love with people with whom we can build a successful life, and some of us…don’t. And, y’know, we all know some lovely, lovely gorgeous people who have never met anybody, and never had a relationship. But still that kind of ‘lack of success’ can lead us to the sense of not having the self-worth in some ways. So there are lots of ways in which we can ‘fail’, it turns out. So this cycle of attempting to get our self worth from what we do, has all sorts of kind of ways in which it sends us back to the point of thinking, “well I need to feel that I’m worth something.”
And quite often what it does is that it leads us to seek to be doing things in life, or seek achieve things or have goals in life, which are really centred around what we think we ought to be doing, or what we think would give us a sense of achievement and worth, according to the sorts of things that society suggests are good to have.
But we also do it in micro-ways. In little sort of challenges that we set ourselves, on a daily or a weekly basis. Mine, I would freely admit, is the never-achievable aspiration of ‘being more efficient’. I always think I will Get Lots Done. But I’m 51, and the sad truth is that the chances of me becoming quicker and slicker at tasks in life is pretty slim. So really, that’s an achievement goal that I would do really well to stop putting myself through.
And it’s not only in kind of general life that we can end up setting ourselves challenges. More subtly, and more surprisingly, in the sense of spiritual and personal growth, we can also kind of go round this cycle. “If I get fitter”, “if I go to the gym more often”, “if I manage to run 3x a week”, “if I set myself a new year’s resolution, and I actually manage to achieve it, of eating less chocolate, of drinking less alcohol” – whatever it happens to be. “Maybe if I manage to meditate every morning for 20 minutes, my life would be calmer and better, and I could say that I had achieved that sense of Being The Person That I’m Hoping To Be. If you’re part of a religious community where there is teaching and reading, then one of the messages that you can end up getting, is that actually, if you try a bit harder, if you do a bit better, then you will be a “better Christian”, or Bhuddist, or Muslim. If you “do more” of this stuff, if you “get better” at your spiritual practices, if you Read The Bible More Often, if you pray “better”, there are all kinds of things which can end up being set up as kind of achievements.
Actually, ironically, the spiritual are within a realm, where we would think that we’d be a bit more enlightened than that, that actually, that wouldn’t be where we were getting our worth from.
So obviously that Cycle of Doing, that sense that “I am what I achieve” is not the most healthy or helpful way to address this thing about self-worth.
So there is a different starting point. So I would now like to introduce you to the concept of the Cycle of Being. The idea that I do things, if I do do them, is because I can, because they’re an expression of who I am. And in order to engage in the Cycle of Being, and you can imagine this one going around the opposite way to the way you imagined the Cycle of Doing, if you like… we start from the point of saying, “Well, I know that I am valuable, I am precious, I am loved by God. I have an inherent value, that is a given. It’s not something which I’m going to achieve through what I do, it’s something which I have because I am who I am.” And if you’re a person of faith, if you have a belief in God, and a God who loves you, then actually, that sense of self-worth, of being valuable just because you are, can come from that idea that at the centre of the universe, there is One who loves us. That everything comes, essentially, from the fact that it was created by a Divine Being that loves us, and a Divine Being who loves what She created. So if you can start from that perspective, then actually, you don’t have to do anything. Simply being who you are is enough. And from that sense of satisfaction about who you are, you can get energy and joy, and the great thing about that is that you can do things not because you feel you have to, not because there’s a sense of driveness, but because they are an expression of who you are.
Now inevitably, I would say that when you work hard, you get tired. And then if you can feed your soul, if you can rest in God’s loving presence, if you can engage in the practices and the thinking that reminds you that you have worth simply because you are, there is a restoration that comes from that. You can rest again in that sense of being valuable and precious and loved. And worth something just because you are who you are. You are unique in the history of the cosmos! That’s a wonderful thing. That is something which has value.
Obviously, none of us manages to keep around this circle all of the time. Sometimes we do go back to worrying that we’re not good enough. Of thinking, “Well, I’m not alright after all.” But actually, there is an answer to that, because you can go back to that sense of feeding who you are, of resting in God’s loving presence. And if you’re thinking about how you might do that then actually going back to the episode of spiritual connectors and blockers can be really helpful in terms of helping you to find ways of resting in that sense of worth for who you are.
You might be thinking, do you have to be a person of faith to have an inherent sense of being valuable because of who you are? And I would say no. I think that as human beings we all have, actually, deep within us, a sense that we have value simply through being. Recently I was at the Greenbelt festival and I listened to Richard Dawkins. And one of the points that he made was that life, the universe, people, are pretty amazing. And what he was saying, actually, was, you don’t need to believe in God in order to think that the world around us is pretty stunning and amazing. And actually, that I would say that human beings are pretty stunning and amazing. If we can access it, we do carry within us that sense that all people have worth, and are valuable.
You may remember, back in the 1980s, I think it was in the early 80s, there was the incidence where a young girl, I think she was about 18 months old, ended up falling into a well, and I think it was in Texas. Her name was Jessica Morales. And there had been kind of an accident, and she ended up falling down this well, and through accidents of geology, she’d survived the fall, but she was stuck. And it took a huge team of people, and thousands of dollars to extract her from this well. And because of how it was they kind of had to dig down and dig a tunnel and get to her. There was a fireman who was given the job of talking to her and reassuring her and being a bit of a presence while she was stuck in the hole, and they sent her down food and nutrients and they got her out and she grew up to live a perfectly normal life.
What’s really interesting is that the whole world was on tenterhooks waiting to find out what happened to Jessica. Well, she was 18 months old. We all wanted her to get out of the well, it was wonderful when they managed to rescue her, absolutely fantastic.
But going back to this idea of ‘where do we get our worth from?’, she was 18 months old, she had done, from a classical sense, nothing to contribute to society. She had just about managed the achievement of walking. She probably hadn’t even got to the point where she was continent yet. There were lots of things that she couldn’t do, she was little. So her worth, her value, we all had a sense that this was somebody precious, who it was worth spending time and money and effort to rescue.
When the Chilean miners got stuck we were waiting, wanting them to come out. And nobody knew anything about who they were or what they’d done or what they’d achieved, apart from the fact that they were miners, but we still wanted them to escape. When we hear individual stories about people, we have that sense, don’t we, that everybody is precious. So actually, it is a really human thing to understand that individuals are precious and valuable, just because they are who they are.
And we can more fully express who we actually are when we start from that place of knowing that we are loved and that we are precious, knowing that we have value, and knowing that simply being who we are, is a good thing. And actually, when we really rest with that and settle into it and allow that to be the beginning of our cycle, not the end to which we are wanting to achieve, then we are able much more to express the essence of who we are, we are much less likely to get caught up doing things or engaging in activities, or chasing careers and achievements, which are the things that society are telling us that we should have. And much more able to rest in the present moment, cos life is just a series of present moments, and this moment that you are in is a precious one. And it’s worth celebrating that and the person who you are now, is precious. The way that you express life in this world, the uniqueness that you bring is deeply, deeply valuable. And so beginning to move out of that sense of “you’re not gonna be worth it unless you strive”, is valuable, and will enable you, actually, to achieve more of expressing your uniqueness in the world, than ever you will get from chasing a sense of achievement.
So whatever it is that you’re chasing, it’s not that those things are bad, it’s just that that is really not the place for your self-worth and your value to come from. So let’s give ourselves a break. Let’s remember that we are valuable. And let’s enjoy today for what it is.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.